“What It Takes to Love Orphans”
by Jedd Medefind
The unmatched significance of the family is perhaps never more visible than when a child must face the world without one. The depth of each orphan’s sorrow and struggle can leave us breathless, while the scope of what many call the “global orphan crisis” can paralyze. But ultimately, both the breadth and the depth of orphan need must lead us to and then beyond the mass scale solutions that can be furnished by government and NGOs alone. The home and the church must play the watershed role.
Studies of orphans worldwide consistently lay bare the inadequacy of mass scale care for children. Commodities like food, shelter and medicine are vital, and can often be effectively delivered by the machinery of governments and NGOs. But that same machinery proves utterly insufficient to meet the deeper needs for love, nurture, and belonging. Though sometimes necessary as short-term solutions, even brief stints in orphanages affect everything from a child’s physical size and mental health to her intellect.
We see the same in the U.S. foster system. By their mid-20s, less than half of those who graduate from foster care are employed. More than 80 percent of males have been arrested, compared to 17 percent overall. And 68 percent of the women are on food stamps, compared to 7 percent overall.
We have a mass scale need that cannot be solved en masse. 18.3 M orphans in the world have lost both parents. Roughly 500,000 children live in the U.S. foster system. Yet meeting their most fundamental needs can only be done one child at a time, by caring adults willing to share their homes and their hearts.
With all that is involved with loving an orphan—whether via adoption, foster care or even mentoring—the typical drivers of charity are simply not enough. The motivation of guilt, duty and idealism are ultimately outstripped by the vast need.
There is, however, one Source that can match both the breadth and depth of the need. Christians believe that at the center of the universe is the God who pursued us when we were destitute and alone, who rescued and adopted us, who invites us to live as His children. This God calls those who have tasted his adoption to “defend the cause of the fatherless” (Is. 1:17) and “set the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:6). The motivation is not guilt, duty or idealism, but because such a heart reflects God’s own.
Christians today are rising to this call in ways not seen in generations. In Colorado, families stimulated by Focus on the Family and Project 1:27 have taken the lead role in caring for foster youth—cutting the number of “waiting” children by more than 50 percent in two years. Similar church-based efforts can be seen across the U.S., from Florida to Arkansas to Illinois to Texas. Efforts to care for orphans worldwide—through both international adoption and orphan care—are often intertwined with these initiatives. Some U.S. churches have also begun to support recent indigenous adoption movements from Ukraine to Ethiopia.
A New York Times article summed it up matter-of-factly, “Evangelical Christian churches, which have increasingly taken up orphan care as a tenet of their faith…” As they do, we see clearly it is the family alone that can provide the love each orphan needs, and the Church alone that can provide the community and support each family needs to persevere along an often difficult road.
The end of this story is yet to be written. But what I observe again and again is that as Christians rise to defend the fatherless—filling a role that government alone can never fill—no one remains the same. Children’s deepest needs are met. Individuals’ faith becomes vibrant. Church communities are deepened and enriched. And a watching world sees God’s love made visible.
—Jedd Medefind formerly led the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, and now serves as President of the Christian Alliance for Orphans. The Alliance’s annual Summit has become both a catalyst and a hub for the growing movement of Christians engaged in adoption, foster care and global orphan ministry.